Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I recently joined a ping pong – excuse me, table tennis – club. It’s
mostly me and lots of retired guys (because I play in the mornings)
but I love it. Exercise in the form of play. I sweat and bend in ways I
never push myself to do with classes or machines. The husbands of
two of my close friends have been playing for years. We’re all close
and they kept encouraging me to come. The other morning when I left
at 10:00 I saw one of the husbands on my way out. He looked
sheepish, and said, “Please don’t tell my wife.” What he may not know
is that his wife has been confiding in her gal pals that he has been
having performance problems at work. She’s couched it in terms of an
abusive boss. But I know that if one of my employees were coming in
late or malingering I’d be an unhappy boss too. In the moment I was
so flustered I said “Okay” but now I am regretting feeling bound by
that answer. Am I gagged?


Dear Top-spinned:

You are bound by your word. But there are lots of ways to deal with
the specific circumstances. Below are several options, of which you
should choose whichever speaks to your own level of emotional
comfort with your friends and moral elasticity with your conscience.


You could say nothing to anyone. That leaves his and his wife’s
communication in their own court. Alternatively, you could confide
your dilemma in the other wife, asking her opinion about what to. This
sets up the possibility that she might tell his wife, but leaves you a
veneer of plausible deniability. You could tell him the next time you
see him that you are uncomfortable keeping a secret from your friend
and that you don’t want to be bound by what was a polite reflexive
answer. You can deliver this news playfully or seriously, but saying
something at all serves notice that you won’t necessarily keep quiet in
the future.


In future, avoid making promises you won’t want to keep. We’re hard-
wired to want to please others, and to avoid making trouble. But there
are times to say something more complex than just an off-the- cuff